Geelong Homeless Project ‘Axed’
4 September 2013 at 4:48 pm
It’s been claimed a highly successful pilot project supporting youth at risk of homelessness in the Victorian city of Geelong has been summarily axed without further funding by the Victorian Government – a claim that has been strongly denied by the Housing Minister.
Organisers of the The Geelong Project (TGP) claim families and schools are left without critical support for at-risk youth as funding has been cut despite significant financial contributions and widespread community support.
A statement from TGP says funding has been stopped with one months’ notice for the Early Intervention model and no further funding is to be provided by the Victorian State Government for a full implementation of the program.
“This is despite widespread community support for the outcomes of the pilot, positive and overwhelming feedback by the schools and clients being supported and evidence that young clients are in fact being diverted from homelessness and kept in school,” the statement said.
“Since this funding announcement, the Geelong community; 71 individual clients; 12 now unemployed full-time project staff; school staff; and the families being offered this critical support; are left in a state of dismay as to who will now be preventing youth homelessness in this region.
“With astounding data on the outcomes being achieved and clear evidence of the complex issues being experienced by these at-risk young people (from mental health concerns, family breakdown, drug & alcohol abuse, school disengagement, housing instability) this decision is going to impact far and wide,” it said.
However, the Victorian Minister for Housing, Wendy Lovell says The Geelong Project, along with 11 other Innovation Action Projects (IAPs), was funded on a time-limited basis as part of the Victorian Government’s Homelessness Action Plan, and received the funding allocated to it.
“All 11 IAPs were independently assessed by (international accounting firm) KPMG and those that delivered the best outcomes were renewed.
“It was made clear to all involved in the IAPs that transition plans were required should the IAP not be selected for renewal,” Minister Lovell said.
“Two of the seven projects renewed, Home at Last and Regional Outreach for the Elderly will continue to serve the Geelong region.”
However, one of the TGP program partners, Associate Professor of Swinburne University, David MacKenzie, said that “in more than 20 years involvement in homelessness research and policy, I don’t think I have ever come across a Government decision that is so obviously bad and destructive of what is an outstanding example of innovation to support vulnerable young people and their families”.
“This will also stretch to the 520 students recently identified at-risk of homelessness in two-thirds of the local Geelong region schools. It is shocking to know that these families will now be left without support and the young people will likely enter the homelessness system (or worse).
“This innovative service developed in Geelong, based on a whole of community approach, has proven effective in diverting our young people from homelessness and keeping them engaged in school. During the pilot phase of less than one full year, The Geelong Project proactively identified and intervened with 95 young people and 43 family members, where homelessness and school disengagement were identified at high risk.”
TGP says its pilot intervention has had the following results:
100% of the young people have remained engaged in school, increased engagement or returned to school (who were not attending regularly)
100% of the young people supported have retained or obtained safe sustainable accommodation (86.2% remained in or returned home after leaving or regularly couch-surfing,
13.8% supported into alternative accommodation when home was not appropriate
TGP says an investment of $1.9 million is required for Geelong ‘community of schools and youth services’ to effectively intervene early and divert these 520 young people from homelessness and early school leaving in the next 12 months, inclusive of continued support for the 71 individuals currently receiving intensive support through the project.
"This equates to $3,653 per family, a massive saving to the community when compared to the cost of homelessness and early school leaving.
“The Geelong Advertiser has been actively reporting the troubling issue of youth homelessness in the Geelong region for several years, and has reported up to 80 young people in this region, each night, do not have any accommodation.
“There has been a massive investment in The Geelong Project from 35 partner agencies – 11 schools, mental health, disability, youth and family, youth justice employment and training agencies,” Mike Kelly, CEO Time for Youth, said.
“The concern from Geelong community will be huge. Geelong has been leading Victoria with early intervention and has now had the rug pulled out from under”.
“The Geelong Project, led by Time for Youth with partners Swinburne University, Barwon Youth and Geelong Region Local Learning and Employment Network, and community partners, is grounded in community collaboration.
"Our vision is a ‘community of schools and youth services’ capable of preventing our most vulnerable young people from becoming homeless and leaving school early.
“We know that the Premier, as a former community services Minister, understands the importance of a combined education, health and human services approach to early intervention. We call on the Premier to get government departments to work together to see that this successful project continues,” Kelly said.